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Diamonds: Still Not Anyone's Best Friend

Celia Dugger has a good piece in this morning's Times about the diamond trade in Zimbabwe. The story is, predictably, depressing.

The viability of an effort endorsed by the United Nations to halt the trading of the so-called blood diamonds that have fueled conflicts across Africa is on the line this week, and the test case is Zimbabwe. The question is whether participants in this global effort, now meeting in Namibia, will penalize Zimbabwe for rampant smuggling that has been documented by their own investigators and which violates international standards, say representatives of the diamond industry and watchdog groups. Any country belonging to the Kimberley Process, the international undertaking against conflict diamonds, can block Zimbabwe’s suspension from the group, which critics say would undermine its ability to police the industry.

The reason for the possible suspension is not precisely the mining and smuggling of "conflict diamonds" because there are no rebel groups in Zimbabwe (alas, you might be thinking). Instead, the government finances and operates criminal gangs which do all the work. (In many cases, the Mugabe-controlled military takes a direct role).

The excerpt from Dugger's piece quoted above hints at some of the systemic problems involved. The effort might be "endorsed" by the United Nations, but as I wrote for the magazine in 2006, it is not enforceable. This was precisely the concern raised by human rights groups when the Kimberley Process was enacted. Member states and companies like De Beers do not necessarily have an interest in policing their big profits. It is true that the Kimberley Process has registered some noteable successes--and many of its investigators do terrific work (as seen by the report, leaked to the Times, which frames Dugger's piece). But, as human rights workers have been saying for some time, switching to a decision-making scheme that operated based on majority vote would be a huge step in the right direction. As it stands currently, the vote of South Africa--Mugabe's longtime protector--could alone keep Zimbabwe's regime in the clear.